Thursday 22 February 2018 / 06:28 AM


Attaining Origin selection gives players a special status – recognition that they are good enough to play on the toughest, high-quality rugby league stage on the planet.

Few would begrudge Origin status to the 34 players that will do battle at Suncorp Stadium for Game III of the 2017 State of Origin series.

But sometimes a player gets a shock call-up due to an injury crisis, or they fail to kick on after reaching the career milestone of representing their state and are quickly forgotten.

Here’s 17 players whose brief time in the representative spotlight you may struggle to recall.

1 Mark Hughes (New South Wales)

With the Blues’ three fullbacks from the previous two series – David Peachey, Tim Brasher and Robbie Ross – on the injured list, Newcastle centre Hughes was the surprise pick in the No.1 for all three games of the 2001 series. Hughes had reasonable experience filling in for regular Knights fullback Robbie O’Davis and performed creditably in the 2-1 loss, but was not called upon by his state again.

2 Craig Hancock (New South Wales)

A beneficiary of the Super League war, Manly stalwart Hancock was picked on the NSW wing for the 1995 series opener – a shock 2-0 loss to a ragtag Queensland outfit – but injury ruled him out of the remaining clashes, with clubmate John Hopoate taking his place for Game 2. The reliable flank-man finished an 11-season first-grade career for Manly and Balmain with 70 tries from 192 appearances. 

3 Michael Buettner (New South Wales)

Norths centre/five-eighth Buettner is among the few players to be part of the ‘one-game wonder’ club in Test and Origin football. After scoring two tries against PNG in his only appearance for Australia at the end of 1996, the prolific try-scorer was named on the bench for the Blues in the ’97 dead-rubber, which the Maroons won 18-12.

4 Dane Nielsen (Queensland)

Anyone who witnessed his bumbling efforts for the Warriors will be dumbfounded as to how Nielsen managed three appearances for the all-conquering Queensland side in 2011-12. But the Mackay-born three-quarter’s reliable form for Melbourne, and injuries to Justin Hodges, Greg Inglis and Willie Tonga, saw him play two games in 2011, before Billy Slater’s withdrawal prompted a recall for the 2012 decider.

5 Adrian Brunker (Queensland)

‘Archie’ Brunker was a dependable club winger for Newcastle who managed to sift his way onto the Queensland wing in 1992-93 thanks to injuries to Broncos stars Willie Carne and Michael Hancock. A butterfingered display in the classic Game 2 of the ’93 series saw the Maroons replace him with an 18-year-old Brett Dallas. Brunker subsequently joined Gold Coast but later played in a grand final with St George.

6 Steve Carter (New South Wales)

Never a genuine chance of an Origin start due to the presence of Laurie Daley, Cliff Lyons, Brad Fittler and Matthew Johns, Penrith pivot Carter came off the bench in one game, a 5-4 loss in the second game of the 1992 series. He was replaced by Tim Brasher for the decider, but went on to play a club record 242 games for the Panthers. 

7 Jarrod Mullen (New South Wales)

Anointed Newcastle’s great white hope after the injury-enforced retirement of Andrew Johns, Mullen was thrust into the same role for NSW a couple of months later, debuting at halfback in the 2007 series opener. He was solid enough on debut as the Blues coughed up a 12-point lead to go down 25-18, but injury ruled him out of contention for the ensuing matches. Brett Kimmorley, Peter Wallace, Mitchell Pearce, Trent Hodkinson and Adam Reynolds have tried and failed for the Blues since, but despite threatening to bustle his way back into contention from time to time, four-time Country rep Mullen hadn’t managed to add to his Origin tally by the time a suspension for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs ended his career in the off-season.

8 Ryan O’Hara (New South Wales)

O’Hara became Canberra’s first NSW debutant in five years when he was named for the 2004 series opener, somehow getting the nod ahead of the likes of incumbent Test prop Joel Clinton. After making little impact in the Blues’ golden-point success, O’Hara made way for Jason Stevens ahead of Game 2. The rest of his NRL career was plagued by injury, turning out in just 33 games for the Raiders and Tigers over the next four seasons before heading to Super League. 

9 Matt Ballin (Queensland)

Cameron Smith has had a mortgage on the Queensland No.9 jumper since debuting in 2003, but the Melbourne iron-man pulled out of the 2010 series opener, which gave Manly rake Ballin his opportunity, ousting the likes of Aaron Payne and Nathan Friend for the position. Ballin, who won grand finals with the Sea Eagles either side of his representative call-up, was typically solid, making 30 tackles and providing slick dummy-half service in a 28-24 win.

10 Craig Smith (Queensland)

The lax representative eligibility rules in place during the Super League era allowed New Zealander Craig Smith to turn out for the Maroons in all three games of the 1997 series. Highlighting the farcical nature of his selection, the Illawarra prop played for Rest of the World against Australia at the conclusion of the series, squaring off against five of his Maroons teammates. The aggressive front-rower went on to play 12 Tests for the Kiwis. 

11 Mike McLean (Queensland)

Shaggy-haired backrower McLean managed just 53 games in six seasons with the Roosters (1985-90), but a switch to Newcastle in 1991 catapulted him into a rebuilding Queensland Origin side. With the likes of Paul Vautin, Wally Fullerton-Smith, Sam Backo and Dan Stains permanently jettisoned following the Maroons’ series loss in ’90, McLean was part of the new brigade, lining up in the backrow alongside fellow debutant Gary Larson. He played all three matches of the series as Queensland sent Wally Lewis out a winner. Regarded as something of a trouble-maker by club officials, McLean linked with the battling Seagulls in 1992, but still managed to play in the second and third Origin matches, before joining English club Halifax.

12 Scott Gourley (New South Wales)

Towering St George forward Gourley, a former Wallaby Test player, became a dual international when he played for the Kangaroos against PNG in 1991. But he managed just one appearance off the bench for the Blues, in the 1993 dead-rubber loss. Injuries hit at the wrong time the following season and the likes of Dean Pay and clubmate David Barnhill got the jump on him, while three-time grand finalist Gourley never seriously contended for Blues selection again. 

13 Terry Matterson (New South Wales)

Best remembered as the head-geared, toe-poking goalkicker in the Broncos’ No.13 jersey, Matterson became the club’s second NSW representative (after Chris Johns) when he came off the bench in the 1989 dead-rubber loss. A consistent performer and a superb ball-player, Matterson played his best football as an integral member of the Broncos’ 1992-93 premiership-winning sides, but was overlooked for the likes of Bradley Clyde, Paul Sironen, Brad Mackay, John Cartwright and Paul Harragon in the Blues’ selection room.


14 Phil Blake (New South Wales)

A tryscoring wizard during a 15-season first-grade career for six clubs, Blake rates among the modern era’s finest entertainers but also as one of the great unfulfilled talents. Predominantly a half, he was unable to sustain his best form for long periods and was consequently stuck behind the likes of Peter Sterling, Brett Kenny, Des Hasler, Terry Lamb, Cliff Lyons and Greg Alexander in the Origin selection stakes. His sole opportunity came as an interchange in the Blues’ 1989 dead-rubber defeat during his time at South Sydney.

15 Niel Tierney (Queensland)

Behind the likes of Gavin Allen, Andrew Gee, Martin Bella, Mark Hohn and Steve Jackson for a Queensland front-row call-up during his early-1990s heyday for St George, Tierney debuted at the age of 28 in 1997 after winning a grand final with Manly the previous season. The giant prop played all three games of the Maroons’ tight 2-1 loss in the Super League-affected series.

16 Tony Butterfield (New South Wales)

The Blues’ oldest-ever debutant at 32, veteran Knights prop Butterfield came into the injury-ravaged NSW side for the 1998 decider after Rodney and clubmate Paul Harragon were ruled out with injury. He was typically industrious but could not prevent a 19-4 loss to the rampant Maroons at the SFS. 

17 Phil Bailey (New South Wales)

Cronulla centre/backrower Phil Bailey’s period in the rep limelight was brief but successful. Virtually unknown prior to the 2003 season, the former Northern Eagles utility was a bolter on the Blues’ bench and played all three matches of their 2-1 series success. He was then picked in the injury-hit Kangaroo Tour squad and played two Tests of the series whitewash of Great Britain, but was overlooked by NSW and Australia thereafter.

[YouTube – Sean Folan]

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About the author

Will Evans

CBS’s Editor-in-Chief and lead rugby league, union and cricket writer, Will is a Christchurch-based freelancer, also writing for Big League and Rugby League Review magazines, and The New Daily website. Will has written four rugby league books.

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